Michael Lyster says Joe Brolly is ‘loose cannon worth having’

Veteran presenter gives insider’s view of challenges and workings of ‘The Sunday Game’

RTÉ GAA presenter Michael Lyster speaks about outspoken pundit Joe Brolly. Video: Irish TV


RTÉ’s Michael Lyster has given an insider’s view of RTÉ’s The Sunday Game, one filled with tales of gargantuan personalities, heated rows about the GAA and perpetual fears about what Joe Brolly will say next.

In an interview with Eamonn Mallie – to be show on IrishTV (Sky channel 191, Freesat 400, Eir’s eVision channel 191) next Monday – Lyster analyses the three main football panellists on the Sunday Game Live, but reserves his strongest criticism, and praise, for the former Derry football star.

“I have called Cavan over the past few years the ‘Black Death’,” Brolly told Lyster on the programme last May, before adding, “the football has been . . . someone said it’s as ugly as Marty Morrissey. Maybe I should apologise to the people of Cavan for that.”

Brolly apologised shortly afterwards, but the comment caused a furore, with the head of RTÉ Sport, Ryle Nugent, stating “similar comments in any future broadcast cannot and will not be tolerated”.

In “Mallie meets . . .”, Lyster said the incident was his most challenging on television. “There’s no doubt about it. What he said about Marty was just so out of line, was just so wrong. I don’t know, to this day, what Joe was thinking. I really don’t.

“In a way there was no issue about this – if you’re having a discussion about the match, styles of play, the team, whatever, you can think to yourself, well that’s a bit strong, but people are watching the match, they may agree or not. This was completely different. This was just out of order, as I said to Joe on the day.”


Brolly is no stranger to making controversial remarks on the show, and has frequently clashed with fellow panellists, particularly Pat Spillane. “They don’t hate each other, but it’s not a game,” said Lyster. “They come with different perspectives on it. What they actually do is bemuse each other, more than dislike each other.

“Sometimes people would be giving out, ‘ah, Joe Brolly drives me mad’, ‘Pat Spillane gives me a pain in the backside’. It’s about getting that balance right by throwing a Colm O’Rourke into the middle of them. The special chemistry is picking the right guys to put in the studio. Because all you have to do is look at their various personalities.

“Joe Brolly is a very, very intelligent guy, very knowledgeable in GAA. When you leave out all the madness, what he says is right on the money most of the time. Except he’s always capable of the other thing, that’s neither here nor there, and not on any money.

Is he a loose cannon? “Yes. But is he a loose cannon worth having? Yes. If he was a guy that was just a mouth, that was saying things for attention, that wouldn’t work. But you can strip back his comments, and some of things he says that gets under people’s skins, and say, ‘well, what about the point he was making’ and you’ll find the point was pretty accurate.

“Half the time all I can hear in my earpiece is fellas screaming, or gasping over their cup of coffee. Threatening to throw themselves out of the van. I can hear all these things, and it can be very funny sometimes.

“Pat Spillane comes with his own particular southern angle and view – that Kerry take on things. And Colm is what Colm is. He’s steady, he’s the voice of reason. The thing about Colm O’Rourke is, because he’s so laid back, he sits back in the chair a lot, and looks at the other two. Often I think he’s letting the other two talk themselves out and then he’ll come in with something succinct at the end of it.”

Lyster said he likes to get to the stadium at 10am on the day of a big match. “There’s actually nothing to do for a couple of hours, but it’s just to be there. As you come closer the time, you talk your panellists through the various aspects and what you’re doing, and what you plan to do, and what you plan to talk about. You do that with most of them, expect Joe Brolly who won’t sit down and listen to you – but other than that it’s fine.

“The panellists are very strongly opinionated, that’s why they’re there, they’re very experienced, and they’re guys who come with a lot of ego. Most of them have been players themselves, they’re able to handle themselves in a tough situation. They know what the other guy is at. They know the other guy is trying to play them, so it’s like a little game in the studio itself.”

Talking about growing up in Galway and working with the Tuam Herald before moving to RTÉ and Dublin, Lyster explained that “in 1979, RTÉ had started Radio Two, and they were looking for people to man the sports desk. I answered the ad. Not only did I not think I’d get it, I had absolutely no intention of taking the job if I did get it. I only applied for the craic. I applied to go up to RTÉ for the day, and have a look around, and have a look at the studio, and see if I might bump into Gay Byrne or Mike Murphy.”

‘Health issue’

Lyster also spoke about what he called his “health issue” last summer. “It was even more than a heart attack, it was a cardiac arrest. And the difference is for people who, hopefully, haven’t experienced anything like it is that, with a heart attack, you get the classic pain in your chest, and not feeling well. With a cardiac arrest your heart just stops beating . . . I essentially died, but I was pulled back out of the river again. It doesn’t get much more dramatic than that.”

The presenter was also asked about RTÉ’s continuing rift with Mickey Harte. The Tyrone football manager has not given a post-match interview to RTÉ since 2011, when he was to the fore in criticising RTÉ for not promoting their GAA correspondent Brian Carthy.

A few weeks later, RTÉ had to apologise following an insensitive radio sketch that targeted the Tyrone man, and featured the song the ‘Pretty Little Girl from Omagh’. His daughter Michaela had been murdered earlier in 2011 while on honeymoon in Mauritius.

Asked why the situation hadn’t been resolved, Lyster admitted it was “a very unfortunate situation”.

“I can’t go into it. Every effort has been made. Mickey has his view. We have tried to cross the bridge. It hasn’t worked, and that’s the beginning and end of it. It’s not for lack of effort. I think in fairness you would have to talk to Mickey, and say ‘Mickey, what’s the problem, why won’t you step across the line on this one’?”

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